Through seven games last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers, en route to a 11-5 record and a division title, stood at 4-3, coming off a seven-game stretch of a win-loss-win pattern. This year, the Steelers are again standing at 4-3 at this juncture, but this time, they are coming off a loss, and yet their future seems equally uncertain.
Of course, the Steelers have gone the past month without Ben Roethlisberger, going 2-2 in that span. Most teams would regard themselves as fortunate to go 2-2 without their starting quarterback, but that is what they have managed to do.
And getting Roethlisberger back will demonstrably be a massive upgrade to what has proven to be a fairly solid team, barring the quarterback position, in his absence. But they are facing obstacles this year that they did not face a year ago.
First and foremost is the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals are already threatening to run away with the division after jumping out to a 6-0 start, while the Steelers are already three games behind in the loss column. But they have the opportunity to chip away at that next week, as they are next on the docket.
They are also currently 0-1 in a division in which the Bengals seem destined to go 4-0 combined against the Ravens and Browns, and the Steelers already own a loss to the Ravens, at home, with no other division wins yet under their belts.
But the fact that all three of the Steelers’ losses have come within the AFC, and that three of their four wins have come outside the conference, is certainly not helping matters, as, given that the Steelers may well be heading for tiebreakers by the end of the year for the division or a wildcard spot, conference record has a fine chance of coming into play.
Within the division, the conference record comes fourth in the pecking order in the procedures, following head-to-head record, division record—in which the Steelers are already 0-1—and record in common games, of which there would be 12.
Conference record is of substantially more prominence with respect to the wildcard race, as it comes in as the second tie breaker, behind onto a head-to-head record, which is no guarantee.
Among AFC teams with at least three wins, the Steelers have the worst conference records. They are, in fact, the only team without a losing record to have just one conference win this far into the season. Only the Texans and Chargers among teams with more than one victory share the Steelers’ .250 winning percentage within the conference.
Of course, it is fair to point out that the Steelers are currently in position for a wildcard spot already, and are getting Roethlisberger back now. They are one of just four teams in the conference with at least four victories, and one of two among non-division leaders. The Dolphins and Raiders, however, are lurking at 3-3—the Raiders are on the schedule shortly—while the Bills at 3-4 could still be a threat.